Chapter 200. Damned Long Story (2)


The squirrel ran around from Player to Player for about five minutes before disappearing into tall grass. Aileen looked on in disappointment as the squirrel left but soon put on a serious face and looked out to the front.

“What’s the plan?”

Aileen asked Kim Suho’s party. Yun Seung-Ah had asked her to help out Kim Suho, but she believed he should be able to at least survive the Tower’s stage without her babysitting him.

“If you really want, I can cover for…”

Aileen’s stopped in the middle as she turned her head sideways and saw Kim Suho’s party. He was riding on a cool vehicle that resembled a snowmobile. It was black and golden on the surface and looked sturdy even at a glance.

“Ah, um, we have a way already.”

Seeing Aileen’s shocked expression, Kim Suho scratched his head and explained.

“…Looks like he’s more prepared than us, Lady Aileen.”

“Kim Suho, what’s that? Where did you get it?”

Jin Seyeon expressed her surprise sincerely, and Shin Jonghak asked enviously.

“Er, I found it on the 2nd floor.”

“…It’s fine.”

Aileen was also envious, but she took out a small kite shield to not lose out.

“This is enough for us.”

Aileen said as she snorted. As the Spirit Speech Master, her confidence wasn’t unfounded.

“This shield will become big enough to cover all of us~”

Her words turned fantasy into reality. The kite shield, which was only big enough to cover half of Aileen’s body, suddenly enlarged. Although its weight didn’t change, it had become big enough that Shin Jonghak had to carry it instead.

“Also, for the next 15 minutes, this shield will block attacks lesser than my total magic power capacity~”

“…Pf, pfft.”

Aileen was speaking seriously, but her cute manner of speech and the way her small head bobbed side to side caused Jin Seyeon to snicker. Jin Seyeon instinctively moved her hand to Aileen’s head but stopped after realizing what would happen if she really did pat her.

“We’re going to go ahead. You guys can follow us after the first wave of attacks.”

After leaving behind a generous offer, Aileen moved behind the kite shield with Yi Yongha.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Alright, get ready. Us four are going to move at the same speed like one body.”

“Understood.”

Aileen’s party accepted Aileen’s Spirit Speech without resistance.
Three, two, one!
After Aileen’s countdown, they shot forward simultaneously.

“We should get ready too.”

Kim Suho spoke as he watched Aileen’s group leave. Immediately afterwards, Vanessa Fermun and Paolo Fermun finished their preparation. Chae Nayun was the only one who remained quiet.

“Nayun, are you ready?”

At that moment, a wave of arrows rained down on Aileen’s group. However, they were unable to penetrate Aileen’s kite shield.

“…Chae Nayun, are you still wondering who SevenPoker is?”

Yi Yeonghan nudged Chae Nayun who was standing in a daze. Chae Nayun snapped out and squeezed her longsword’s hilt.

“H-Huh? N-No, I’m just meditating to get to my peak condition.”

“Don’t lie. You weren’t listening at all.”

“…I’m not lying. Plus, I think I already know who SevenPoker is.”

The mysterious ‘SevenPoker’ had dominated most of the games on the 7th floor’s Game Center. Chae Nayun felt like she knew his identity.
In truth, it wasn’t all that surprising.
SevenPoker.
Extra7’s ‘7’ and his incredible gaming skills.
With these clues, it was easy for her to guess who SevenPoker was. What Chae Nayun was pondering about was something else – the true identity of Extra7.

“Anyways, I’m ready. Let’s go, I’ll protect the car properly.”

As soon as Chae Nayun spoke confidently…

“Mm~ as I thought.”

A cheesy, uncomforting voice rang out next to them.

“Members of the Guild Alliance were here too~”

Kim Suho’s party turned to the side. Ordinary People Alliance’s ‘Zurahan’ had arrived with his party.

“…Zurahan.”

“Nice to meet you, Hero Kim Suho.”

Kim Suho glared at Zurahan with a sharp gaze, which Zurahan pushed back with a smiling face.

“Hero? What Hero?”

Next to him, a displeased voice rang out. Although Kim Suho’s party only knew him as a loud baldy, he was known by a select few as ‘Kaita’, the Chameleon Troupe’s Seat of Silver.
Yi Jiyoon whispered.

“Who are they?”

“You don’t need to know.”

Kim Suho’s reply made Kaita frown.

“…She doesn’t need to know? Aren’t you being a bit rude here?”

“Let’s get going. We don’t need to trouble ourselves with these guys.”

Kim Suho put his foot on the accelerator.

“What? Where are you… wait, where did you guys get such a good ride?”

Kaita’s snake-like eyes flickered with greed.
Kwaaaaa— Kim Suho stepped on the accelerator. The Dwarven Supercar shot forward, throwing dirt and pieces of grass on Kaita.

“Pfft. Ah, hey! You little fucker! Stop! I said stop…!”

Kaita cursed as he yelled, shooting out a silver ray of magic power, but the Dwarven Supercar had far escaped his range.

**


[3F, Lv.4 Bell’s Hideout]

“….”

Jin Sahuk opened her eyes feeling hazy. To be exact, they opened regardless of her will. She couldn’t bare the excruciating pain.

“Haaaa….”

Jin Sahyuk let out a cracked and barren sigh and raised her upper body. She then infused magic power into her blackened body. The magic power intertwined with the curse burning her flesh and clotted over the surface of her skin.
Jin Sahyuk clenched her teeth and removed what was now a thin film.

“—!”

The severe pain of cutting off flesh followed. But this was the only way she could survive. The least she could do to continue living was to remove the curse that was exposed outward.
Jin Sahyuk fell to her knees in excruciating pain.

“A-Argh….”

“…Sahyuk!”

Her comrade rushed in.

“Are you okay?!”

Jin Sahyuk looked at Rumi, the woman looking at her. She wanted to say something, but her lips refused to budge. As she mumbled inaudible words, her eyes wandered to Rumi’s hands.
In those hands was a bowl of well-cooked rice porridge. Suddenly, fear struck Jin Sahyuk.
The curse interfered with eating. So, if she were to swallow that porridge, unbearable pain would strike her once again.

“Ugh….”

Jin Sayhuk shook her head in fear.

“You have to eat to get better.”

“No, no.”

“Bell-ssi is trying hard to make a counteragent….”

“No, no.”

Jin Sahyuk stood up in a hurry. She meant to run away but fell only after a few steps. Rumi caught her thin body which was as light as a feather.

“It’s okay. Don’t worry. Everything will be alright….”

Rumi gently soothed her. Jin Sahyuk stayed still in her arms.
After a short pause, there was a faint sob.

“…It hurts… so much.”

“It’ll be okay… soon.”

Rumi was heartbroken. Jin Sahyuk she knew wasn’t weak like this.
If her injuries were normal, she would have easily overcome them with the power of her anger.

“If I… die….”

“You’re not going to die. Who said you will? Now, you should stop talking.”

However, she had six different parts of her body covered with the banshee’s curse. These curses, which were already at Lv.5, gave Jin Sahyuk pain greater than death.

“…I.”

Nearly a month went by with no cure and no change for the better. To Jin Sahyuk, this month felt like a year. Over the course of this month, her strong willpower had melted away.

“I’m so, so tired….”

Jin Sahyuk sobbed in Rumi’s arms. She was almost wailing.

“…It’s okay.”

Rumi clenched her teeth.
She wanted to take revenge on the man who made Jin Sahyuk this way. However, she had no means of doing so. She didn’t have the power to. Above all, that wasn’t what Bell wanted.

“Haa….”

With a groan, Jin Sahyuk stopped trembling. But her heartbeat was still the same. She had fainted again. Rumi put Jin Sahyuk back in bed.
Bell returned at that precise moment.

“Bell-ssi…?”

Bell looked back and forth between Jin Sahyuk lying in bed and Rumi, then smiled brightly.

“I think I’ll be able to get my hands on the counteragent.”

**

Around the same time, at Ironblood Duchess’ Mansion in Crevon.
I was able to draw a conclusion after watching Boss and Tomer duel.

First— Boss was far greater in terms of talent and innate battle sense.
But the problem was Tomer’s stats and use of skills, which she had accumulated and perfected over the last four years.
Tomer, who was originally the owner of Aether, was a genius when it came to utilizing her environment and tools given to her. She overwhelmed Boss with her unrivaled understanding and utilization of skills.

“…Uk!”

KWANG!
Boss flew to the wall. Tomer was using only ‘Psychokinesis’, a basic skill, to fight Boss. Although Psychokinesis was one of the best basic skills, what was really amazing was the synergy between Tomer’s Psychokinesis and magic power.

“…Let’s do it one more time.”

Boss didn't give up.
Still, while the process might be a little different, the result would be the same. Boss would need at least three months of repeated sparring to become a match for Tomer.

“Hmm.”

I took my eyes off of their duel and checked my inventory. In the inventory, there were many treasures that Tomer had bestowed upon me. The mere sight of them made me pleased. But I couldn’t continue to simply hold on to them.

I took them out without hesitation and tore them apart quickly.

[You used Skill Experience +30 Coupon.]
[You used Skill Experience +60 Coupon.]
[You used Item Experience +100 Coupon.]

As a result, [Synthesis] became Lv.5, [Extraction and Permanent Materialization] became Lv.6, and my one and only special skill, [Algorithm], rose to Lv.5.

[Upgrading Aether with advanced algorithm….]
[Skill level 5 achieved!]
[Challenge completed — Basic Understanding of Skills]
[All stats increase by 0.25.]

Finally, at last, the system I had been waiting for was ‘unlocked’.

[You successfully recovered your stats!]
[Your body has perfectly adapted to the environment inside the Tower.]

===
▷Strength 8.000
▷Stamina 7.935
▷Speed 10.055
▷Perception 10.355
▷Vitality 8.005
▷Magic Power 4.5
===

I had fully recovered my power outside the Tower. The experiences I gained inside the Tower seemed to have been applied as well, as my stats were also 1.5~2 points higher than before.

“Ehew~ Finally.”

It was a long wait.
The real growth would begin now.

KWAANG—!

Suddenly, there was an earsplitting roar, and Boss fell flat on her face.
Boss and Tomer’s second duel had ended.

“Hey.”

I called Tomer.
Tomer tilted her head to the side and turned to look at me.

“What?”

“Spar with me too.”

“…Huh?”

Tomer stood silently for a moment and then grinned.

“Pfft. Why so suddenly?”

“Just because. It made me feel a little uncomfortable seeing you bully Boss.”

Of course, that was a joke. I was used to Boss’ clumsy self by now. In fact, I was too scared to deal with Boss when she was being serious.

“Oh yeah? Then come at me.”

I brushed off my knees and stood up with a grin. However, Boss suddenly intervened.

“…Stop it, Hajin.”

Boss looked at me with the most serious expression on her face and shook her head.

“I understand how you feel… But I’m okay.”

“…?”

Ah, that’s right.
I forgot that she was the type of person who took jokes seriously.

“I’m the one who asked her for a spar.”

Seeing Boss’ profound gaze, I nodded.

“Oh, okay.”

I then walked over to Tomer. There was no need for a warm up. We counted in silence.
One.
Two.
Three.
First, Tomer unleashed her magic power. It gathered in one place and then turned into fragments which soon formed a dome that engulfed both of us.

“…What’s the name of this skill?”

“Dome Prison. It’s invincible not only against one but also against many. Watch.”

With a shake of Tomer’s hand, several fragments of magic power which made up the dome flew at me.
Aether responded first to the series of attacks, grabbing the fragments flying towards me, turning them into crystals, and putting them in my inventory.

“Oh, looks like you have a pretty cool skill too.”

“Yup.”

“Then… Haa!”

Tomer rushed at me without forewarning. Her speed was difficult to perceive with the naked eye, but this time my body reacted first.
KOOONG—!
Tomer’s fist and my arm came into contact.
It was not a ‘movement of the body’, but an ‘operation of the machine’. Aether had moved my body on its own to block Tomer’s attack.

“….”

“….”

I stopped Tomer’s attack with my right arm.
Less than a second had passed at this point.
What came to my mind at that moment was a gun.
Only if I had a pistol in my left hand… Upon thinking so, a handgun appeared.
It wasn’t a miracle or imagination. Aether had moved and brought it to me.
I aimed at Tomer and pulled the trigger.

“Uk!”

The bullet scratched Tomer’s cheek. Of course, it wasn’t a miscalculation on my part. Tomer had just dodged at the last moment. To dodge a bullet right under her nose… she was also a monster.
But I still smiled.
If what I had in my hand was a shotgun… I would have won just now.

“I went easy on you, yet you…!”

Tomer’s kick landed on my thigh.

“…!”

I was horrified. It felt like my leg was about to fall out, even though Aether’s automatic defense alleviated the pain as much as possible.

Kieeeek—!

Tomer was about to throw me to the ground next when Spartan appeared out of the blue and wailed.

“What’s that?”

Tomer stopped, and I widened my eyes.
This was a sign from Spartan.

“There are people trying to cross the bridge already.”

I pulled out my hood from my inventory.

“…Ah~ Come to think of it, 30-ish people came in about a week ago, right?”

“Yeah. Those guys are allied Djinns.”

“Show them who’s boss. I heard they’ve been meddling with the locals.”

I held the portable crystal stele in one hand.
I had already recovered from Tomer’s kick using the [Lv.4 Orb of Regeneration].

“I’ll be right back. I’m going now, Boss.”

I infused Stigma’s magic power into the crystal stele.
The sense of space warping embraced my entire body.

**


World’s End Bridge, the pathway to the 9th floor.
The Evil Society Alliance arrived there after kidnapping and torturing several Crevon NPCs.

“…So we have to get past here.”

Kim Hakpyo muttered and folded his arms.
World’s End Bridge. The name was obviously fit for the bridge. It was so long that one couldn’t see where it ended, and it looked as if flesh-eating beasts would jump out any time from the dark forest that stretched from one side of the bridge to the other.

“Get moving, guys.”

For this reason, Kim Hakpyo sent the others forward first. He himself stood near the middle of the pack, safely surrounded by his subordinates.

“Don’t be scared. Nothing’s gonna come out.”

They walked for about 5 minutes amidst Kim Hakpyo’s encouragement.
Suddenly, a flash of light came from the other side of the sky. It soon turned into a streak of wind and headed towards them.
The thing reflected in Kim Hakpyo’s glare was… an arrow.

“…What!”

His henchman magician put up a barrier in time.
TONG!
The arrow couldn’t get past the barrier and fell on the ground feebly. It was an ordinary wooden arrow. Its cuteness made him embarrassed for getting scared for a second.

“Ha, hahaha. What’s this? This is supposed to be a trap?”

Kim Hakpyo picked up the arrow and showed it to his subordinates. They laughed along with him. Obviously, the 8th floor was nothing they should be scared of.

“Hahaha… Mm? Excuse me, Team Leader.”

‘Silasen’, who was laughing alongside Kim Hakpyo, squinted as if he had discovered something.

“What?”

“Um, there’s something dangling at the end of the arrow.”

“Huh?”

Kim Hakpyo looked at the arrow’s tail. There was a piece of paper hanging from the lower side of the arrow.

“What the heck is this?”

“It looks like a message. You should open it.”

“…You do it.”

Kim Hakpyo had Silasen do the job. He dumped what could be a trap onto his subordinate.

“Yes, sir.”

Silasen unfolded the note without hesitation and tilted his head to one side at its content.

“Hmm? This is….”

“What?”

Kim Hakpyo took the note back. The note only had a single sentence.

[I will allow only 10 steps forward.]

“What’s this?”

“More than that, please look below. There’s a drawing.”

Kim Hakpyo did as Silasen said.
There was a drawing of a lotus in the bottom right corner of the paper.

“A lotus….”

“It’s drawn with ink.”

Ink drawing of lotus.
In other words, a black lotus.
It was clear who the drawing represented.

“…Hmm.”

Kim Hakpyo thought for a moment, ‘So Black Lotus was already on the verge of reaching the 9th floor….’
But his thought did not last long and could not change what Kim Hakpyo was about to do.
Including him, there were 20 members of Evil Society Alliance with him.
Up until now, they had stolen various stats boosting items and skills from other Players and NPCs.
Kim Hakpyo was confident that he could win against anyone.

“Hmph, a mere rookie dares to be so bold? All the praises must have gotten to his head.”

Pride also played a big part in his decision.
To retreat without even making sure the enemy was serious would hurt his pride, and even if he was, Kim Hakpyo believed he was far more experienced. Only a handful of people could look down on Kim Hakpyo in the entire world.

“Set up barriers in case of an attack. You know the spell, right?”

“Yes, sir!”

As expected of an executive of Evil Society, he didn’t gloss over any detail.

“Let’s go.”

First step, second step, third step….
They walked forward in a heavy state of tension.
Finally, they reached the 10th step as noted in the message.
Black Lotus’ warning was immediately proven to be true.

Kieeeeeek—!

A loud cry of a bird rang out, and something black flew in from the corner of the sky.
Kim Hakpyo knew that it was an arrow. As such, he was prepared to face it head-on.

“Barriers!”

A series of sturdy barriers shot up one after another at Kim Hakpyo’s command.
A total of 15 barriers were layered on top of each other.
A mere arrow shouldn’t be able to get past them all.

“Silasen, you figure out which way that arrow came from….”

Kim Hakpyo was leisurely giving out the next command when he realized something had gone wrong. As the arrow drew closer, his instincts were roaring louder.
Like a meteor, a trace of destruction split the dry atmosphere in half.
A torrent of magic power caused the air to burn.
An arrow descended downward, tearing clouds apart….

His thoughts didn't last long as a streak of light fell down.

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